Shopper footfall in non-food stores stood at an all-time low last month.
Compiled by Ipsos Retail Performance since 2000, the Retail Traffic Index registered a decline in UK shopper numbers of 7.8% in February against the same month in 2011.
Footfall also fell from the previous month, January 2012, by 9.3% – the sharpest January-to-February fall since 2007. One in six fewer trips is now being made by shoppers than before the slide into recession in autumn 2008.
Despite recent optimism about the state of the UK economy from some official and unofficial data, this most recent finding from the Index shows that consumers are still feeling the pinch.
Dr Tim Denison, Ipsos’ director of retail intelligence, said: “We continue to shop less often. The pain of squeezed real incomes remains entrenched as part of living in the downturn, despite a fall in inflation since its September peak. The 20% rise in petrol pump prices over the last two years is also a key factor; it has curbed the number of daily excursions made to the shops by individuals now used to living in a 21st century car-borne society.
“Promotions which retailers used to great effect last year are also beginning to lose their punch in driving footfall into stores. They’re simply fading into the everyday fabric of a difficult period for retailing, leaving little else in retailers’ first-aid boxes to nurse shoppers back to health.”
Ipsos says that with shopper numbers at record lows, the challenge for retailers is to make every shopper visit count, with the target of pushing up conversion rates and transaction values. This means avoiding customer disappointment through lack of stock, lack of service and long queuing times.
Recognising the importance of raising the customer service bar, says Ipsos, some retailers are planning on introducing more assistants onto their shop floors rather than being tempted to cut costs by doing the reverse.
As a footnote, Denison added a more optimistic prediction. “With feel-good factors surrounding the London Olympics and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and with summer on its way, we should see more shoppers visiting stores over the coming weeks and months,” he said.